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Beach House - Teen Dream

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Artist: Beach House

Album: Teen Dream

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Jan. 21, 2010

A couple of years ago, performing material from their first album, Beach House was nothing if not ethereal, their music a ghostly tapestry of whispered words, eerie guitar slides and programmed percussion. The music was beautiful, evocative, but curiously slippery and ephemeral. You felt, after listening, as if you’d had a really nice dream – but it was hard to recall the specifics. Devotion, a year later, had a similar diffuse and fog-bound charm, and you might have thought, based on two albums, that Beach House had found its sweet spot. With Teen Dream, however, the Baltimore duo has gained unexpected heft and momentum. Their third album together is their best and most substantial work to date,

The sound of Teen Dream is warmer and fuller than either of Beach House’s previous albums. Victoria LeGrand’s voice, in particular, is earthier than before, pitched low and inflected with a velvety androgyny. There’s a huskiness to her singing (you can hear it best on “Silver Soul”) that recalls later career Marianne Faithfull. She sounds surer, older and more physically grounded in these songs than on either the debut or Devotion, a solid presence rather than a spectre.

To this, LeGrand, Alexander Scally and producer Chris Coady add a denser palette of instruments—piano, guitars, bass and a variety of electric keyboards—and a palpable sense of motion. These songs don’t drift or hover as earlier Beach House material did, but rather proceed with purpose and intent. There are big pop crescendos in the album’s best songs, “Zebra,” “Walk in the Park” and especially “10 Mile Stereo,” where dreamy melodies kick into high gear.

Live percussion helps push the songs over the top. For this album, Scally and LeGrand brought in two studio drummers, Dan Franz and Graham Hill. “Zebra,” in particular, picks up intensity when the drums come in (that’s Franz), reaching a climax that wouldn’t be possible with just a boombox.

Teen Dream’s best material comes up front (“Zebra,” “Silver Soul,” “Norway” “Walk in the Park”) , and there’s a bit of a sag in the middle (“Lover of Mine,” “Better Times”), with songs that are pretty enough, but without any big payoffs. “10 Mile Stereo,” though, props up the second half of the album nicely, with its swelling clouds of synth and soaring chorus. The track grows as it goes along, picking up rackety drums and cymbal crashes, until it bursts out of the dream-pop template and becomes simply (and wonderfully) pop.

There’s a second disc of videos included with the album, one for each track. Of these, the most abstract concepts seem to work the best. “Zebra”’s video is just bright, abstract masses of color, vibrating and changing as the song proceeds. “Used to Be” marshals an army of tailor’s dummies to flesh out its concepts and “Silver Soul” paints hula hooping dancers silver to make its surreal case. The oddest cut, though, is the one for “Norway,” which has been turned into a bizarre sort of children’s video. Three characters (one live, two puppets) get sucked into another puppet’s nose, have a series of adventures in some one else’s dreams, and then are sneezed out again. It’s like the Muppets, only not as funny and with stronger drugs, and it doesn’t add much to the song.

Still, you wouldn’t be listening to Beach House if you didn’t want to visit someone else’s dreams for a little while.

By Jennifer Kelly

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